Switzerland- Scientists confirm an 'Earth' around nearest star

Pablo Tucker
May 31, 2020

According to the research team, led by Alejandro Suarez Mascareño of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), the new measurements of Proxima b came from the Swiss-manufactured ESPRESSO, which is a more advanced version of HARPS that is three times more accurate. Michel Mayor, honorary professor at Geneva and the victor of the 2019 Nobel Prize victor in physics, also commented on the findings.

This breakthrough was possible thanks to radial velocity measurements of unprecedented precision using ESPRESSO, the Swiss-manufactured spectrograph, the most accurate now in operation, which is installed on the Very Large Telescope in Chile.

An artist's impression of the view from Proxima Centarui b, a newly discovered Earth-sized planet just four light-years away.

Michel Mayor, a victor of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2019, honorary professor in the Faculty of Science and the "architect" of all ESPRESSO-type instruments, said, "ESPRESSO has made it possible to measure the mass of the planet with a precision of over one-tenth of the mass of Earth".

Our work suggests that both a dynamic ocean and continents are unlikely to decrease the habitability prospects of nearby tidally locked targets like Proxima Centauri b that could be investigated with future observations by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Were going to tackle all these questions, especially with the help of future instruments like the RISTRETTO spectrometer, which were going to build specially to detect the light emitted by Proxima b, and HIRES, which will be installed on the future ELT 39 m giant telescope that the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is building in Chile.”.

Researchers said the confirmation of the planet's existence is an "important task", and were accurately able to indicate its mass - 1.17 times that of Earth - and its orbit, at 11.2 days around its host star. Because the planet orbits right in the middle of its star's habitable zone, it's possible that liquid water - and potentially even life - could exist there. Christophe Lovis, a researcher in UNIGE's Astronomy Department and responsible for ESPRESSO's scientific performance and data processing, wondered.

This unusual alien planet orbits Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun.

Although the planet can be considered a likely candidate for a life-hunting study, the researchers noted that there are other factors that need to be determined first regarding Proxima b's capability to support life. How long have these favorable conditions existed?

Meanwhile, the accuracy of the estimations made by ESPRESSO could bring about another surprise. Additionally, researchers in their study also found evidence of a second signal in the data, apart from Proxima b which could be of planetary origin. "It would then be the smallest planet ever measured using the radial velocity method", said Professor Pepe. Back in 2016, HARPS (High Accuracy Velocity Planet Searcher) spectrograph discovered this planet. Nevertheless, we expect some more developments in this field in the coming days and who know a completely habitable planet could be closer to Earth; still undiscovered.

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